Why You Should Take The Time To Understand The Stories People Tell Themselves


Sunday, 9.33pm

Sheffield, U.K.

There’s always a story. It’s all stories, really. The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything’s got a story in it. Change the story, change the world. – Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

If you get the chance to watch children think – you will see just how much stories matter to them.

Stories are how they make sense of the world – how it was created, how it works, their role in it.

Today, for example, the little people in my house had a discussion about what created the universe – talking about religious views and the scientific view.

They got the points on both sides pretty quickly – because they were re-telling stories they had heard on both topics.

When we get older we forget that we used to see the world through stories and start to think we see the world as it really is.

But, we’re just fooling ourselves.

The urge to tell a story about what we’re seeing is just as strong whether we’re six or sixty, nine or ninety.

I’d go as far as to say there is no truth – there is only story.

I picked up a book called What is narrative therapy? by Alice Morgan – which is all about helping people use stories to improve their lives.

Morgan talks about stories as events, linked in sequence, across time, according to a plot.

What you do is select from all those things that you’ve seen and that have happened to you the events that stand out in your mind.

You string a thread through those events – linking them together to form a sequence of happenings over time.

And they’re not random – they form in accordance with a plot – the narrative you tell yourself and others.

There is a story you tell yourself about how you got to where you are right now.

I could tell the same kind of story.

If you want to start a new business, you’ll craft a story of what’s going to happen – the events that will take place in the future.

And if you want to make a decision – it will be made on the basis of the story you tell yourself about what’s going to happen when you’ve made that decision.

Stories matter – they are the fundamental, the primary way in which we see the world.

It’s like having story glasses on.

Wearing those glasses, things that don’t matter to your story fade away, are not even seen.

But the things that matter stand out, burn more brightly.

If you have a story about why you were passed over for promotion because of your vindictive boss – the events that help that narrative are the ones you’ll notice and string together and use in your plot.

Now, because stories are so important, you have to learn how to harness them.

Some stories are destructive – they cause you to make poor choices – and you have to rewrite them.

That’s where something like narrative therapy might be useful.

In other cases, you have to understand other people’s stories before you can work with them.

For example, let’s say you want to sell your service or product to someone – how would you go about it?

Most people would tell the prospect their story – all about themselves and why you should buy their stuff.

But what would happen if you listened to the prospect’s story – listened to how they saw the world and what they needed?

And then, if you could give them what they needed with your product or service – show them how you could finish their story.

If not – show them how you can build something that will.

As human beings we crave story – not just on TV or as entertainment – but at the pulsing core of our beings.

Maybe that’s the thing that makes us different from animals – not our ability to calculate or do sums – but our ability to tell stories and re-create reality.

If you can see what is there – well, so can a snail.

If you can imagine the impossible – isn’t that what makes you human?

Isn’t that the story you want to tell about yourself?


Karthik Suresh

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